NBA history tells us that players as young as Nerlens Noel are not meant to be impact defenders. He didn't get the memo.
NBA history tells us that 20- and 21-year-olds are not meant to be impact defenders. Their spectacular plays are generally overwhelmed by their physical and mental shortcomings. It’s a testament to the singularity of Noel that he’s now made our list over the past two seasons in spite of that. So rare is his defensive profile that it begs exception; his steal rate in each of his first two seasons ranks among the best of all time for a big, and only truly elite company (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson) matched his output in terms of blocks and steals. It was only with Noel on the floor that the Sixers, lacking as they were, came anywhere close to defensive respectability. To get all of this from a player still feeling his way through team defensive concepts is stunning. Noel isn’t in the Top 100 because he gets every nuance just right. He’s included—and ranked this favorably—because of all that he’s able to offer in spite of his mistakes. (Last year: No. 97)
+ Up to 52.1% shooting from the field last season
+ One of the brightest defensive prospects in the league
– Among the worst in the league in true turnover percentage (per Nylon Calculus)
– Still very lean; movable on hard drives, box outs, and post-ups